Anesthesiology Wellness Program Expands as Healthy Habits Take Root

In the past three years, the Anesthesiology Wellness Program has grown substantially, adding eight thriving interest groups on topics ranging from cooking to meditation and increasing participation in all areas of the department by hosting speakers and events.

The wellness program’s mission is to encourage physical activity and mental well-being among members of the Department of Anesthesiology, with the overall goal of improving productivity and morale. Long-term goals include increasing awareness of positive health behaviors, motivating department employees to voluntarily adopt healthier behaviors, and providing a supportive environment to foster positive lifestyle changes.

The program started small in early 2018 and was modeled on the UF-wide wellness program. Formed by Jenny Barghout, administrative support assistant III, and Christina Hendricks, M.A., web designer, the program originally encouraged participation in wellness initiatives put on by the university. It included walking challenges, the “Plank and Drank” challenge to promote water intake and core strength building, and hydration stations.

Wellness Program Plank & Drank challenge and Hydration Station mini challenge

Today, the program has expanded to reach more members of the department, hosting speakers, purchasing light exercise equipment, and holding regular wellness-related activities. The committee is now co-chaired by two faculty with a strong interest in wellness: Brenda Fahy, M.D., MCCM, professor of anesthesiology, and Basma Mohamed, MBChB, assistant professor of anesthesiology.

“I am excited to have the wellness initiatives involve the anesthesiology department members and members (CRNAs and CAAs) of the anesthesia care team,” Fahy said. “The interest groups represent various areas for participation and continue to expand with the addition of new groups.”

Brenda Fahy, MD
Brenda Fahy, MD

New Leadership

In early 2020, Fahy and Mohamed took on leadership positions on the Wellness Committee and have worked to get residents and faculty involved while expanding interest group offerings.

Mohamed, who is assistant program director for resident wellness, began her wellness journey in 2017 by making small changes to her lifestyle and slowly adopting healthier behaviors. She attributes her success to her slow and steady method.

“My success is in successfully sticking to 10,000 steps every day as a start,” she said. In January 2020, she was one of two recipients of the Wellness Warrior Award, which is a peer-nominated recognition of individuals on the UF and UF Health campuses who have shown their dedication to a healthy lifestyle.

Basma Mohamed
Basma Mohamed, MBChB

Mohamed and Fahy also implemented a “buddy system” for anesthesiology residents during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to use social support to minimize burnout, stress, and anxiety.

“As the residents lost the opportunity for socializing and continuing many of our outdoor events, the Resident Wellness Committee thought of ideas to overcome isolation and help with the psychological impact of COVID-19 on anesthesiology residents,” said Mohamed, who also serves as assistant program director for resident wellness.

The committee supported the pairing of residents with a buddy, and survey responses indicated that having a close support person had a positive impact on residents’ well-being during the highly unpredictable period of time when the hospital was preparing for an anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases.

Going forward, one of the committee’s goals is to emphasize the buddy system every academic year though onboarding sessions for new interns and second-year residents.

Recognition and Growth

The program’s success has not gone unnoticed at UF. In 2019, the Anesthesiology Wellness Program was one of 10 winners chosen from 34 applications across UF for a Wellness Fund Award to bolster wellness initiatives. The program received $500 from GatorCare, which was matched by the Department of Anesthesiology to provide a total of $1,000.

The funds have been used to host three workshops. The first, held in fall 2019, was on financial wellness and future planning. The second, held in January 2020, focused on nutrition and meal preparation. A third workshop on team building was canceled due to COVID-19 but may be held in the future.

The grant also allowed the committee to purchase exercise equipment such as yoga mats, resistance bands, and a fitness ball, as well as reserve space for weekly exercise, meditation, relaxation, and stretching. Light weekly workouts were held beginning in October 2019 until they were also canceled due to COVID-19.

Wellness Champions

Jenny Barghout holding the walking challenge trophy
Jenny Barghout

Barghout, who cowrote the successful grant proposal with Hendricks, has been a dedicated champion for wellness initiatives since the beginning. Over the past few years, she has become a Wellness Partner with GatorCare and led the department in winning not one but two hydration station challenges.

Her commitment to wellness culminated in her leading the 2020 Fall Walking Challenge team, the Anest SleepWalkers, to the top spot in the competitive division. The Anest SleepWalkers won their division with an average of 293,756 steps. The 17-member team, consisting of residents, faculty, CRNAs, CAAs, and staff, outwalked 59 other teams in their division, which draws on participants throughout the university. Jenny now has a trophy on her desk showcasing not only the triumph of her walking challenge team, but also her passion and drive to elevate wellness throughout the department.

Christina Hendricks, MA
Christina Hendricks, MA

Hendricks has also been a champion of the program and is a Wellness Partner with GatorCare. She curates monthly e-newsletters that detail upcoming wellness events and classes such as GatorCare Zoom workouts; showcase new developments in the interest groups; and share wellness-related news articles and tips. She also ensures the Wellness Bridge webpage is kept up to date, posting regular updates with upcoming events and adding resources. Participants can also stay connected through a Wellness Bridge Group and a private Facebook group.

As Wellness Partners, Barghout and Hendricks share information and encourage participation, as well as provide feedback to help the UF and UF Health Wellness Committee build a culture of health.

“I love seeing how wellness initiatives in our department have grown over the past few years,” Hendricks said. “I think encouraging these healthy habits and practices is so important for every single member of our department and the fact that our leadership is so supportive is very encouraging.”

Forward Motion

The Spring Walking Challenge recently wrapped up. This year, two teams from our department participated (the Anest Tater Trots and the Anest IV League), with a total of 37 people, including CAAs, staff, residents, and faculty. The Anest IV League came in seventh in the competitive division with a cumulative average of 278,245 steps, and the Anest Tater Trots came in seventh in the moderate division with a cumulative average of 209,967 steps.

One of the key initiatives of the Wellness Committee has been bolstering interest groups, with the goal of appealing to a wide range of healthy hobbies. With eight groups, there is now a way for nearly everyone to find an outlet to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.

The groups include:

  • Racing Challengers: This group, led by Josh Sappenfield, M.D.; Nik Algarra, M.D.; and Bill Mallet, M.D., aims to build fellowship while challenging the mind and body. The purpose is to challenge participants in cooperative or competitive events, including obstacle racing, traditional racing, or multi-events. In the past, the group has participated in the Cocoa Beach 10K, the Savage Race, and others.
  • Chop It Like It’s Hot: This cooking club led by Britney Vidal and Carley Hume aims to cook fun and exciting recipes step by step and inspire others to try new foods.
  • Hello…Is it trivia you’re looking for?: The mission of this trivia club led by Terrie Vasilopoulos, Ph.D., and Martin Noguera is to exercise the brain, learn new facts, and foster healthy competition. Members have the opportunity to participate in regular trivia events, currently held via Zoom, where they can test their knowledge on a variety of topics. Participants can work in small teams or compete solo.
  • Women in Anesthesiology: This group led by Brenda Fahy, M.D., Tammy Euliano, M.D., and Basma Mohamed, MBChB, hosts lectures and discussion. One past event was an interactive discussion with Shirley Graves, M.D., emeritus professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics. Graves looked back on her life as one of the few women in the field of anesthesiology in the 1960s and 70s. On May 2, the group will hold a lecture and discussion with Monique Reynolds, M.A., an outpatient Clinical Counselor at Operation PAR in Tampa.
  • Shelf Indulgence: The mission of this book club led by Christina Hendricks, M.A., Colleen Kearney, and Corey Astrom, ELS is to promote knowledge, stress reduction, and mental stimulation through reading. The club is currently reading Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. Past selections have included Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah; Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing; and The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel.
  • Transition to Theta: This meditation club led by Tony Cometa, M.D., and Sonia Mehta, M.D., seeks to incorporate mindfulness, meditation, and movement into our hectic schedules and provide an avenue to transition to theta. Theta waves are the predominate EEG findings during meditation. The group aims to create an accessible and comprehensive platform for meditative practices, mindful movement, and education on burnout by holding regular group sessions on Zoom.
  • Academic & Career Development Book Club: The mission of this group, led by Brenda Fahy, M.D.; Basma Mohamed, MBChB; and Anastasia Jones, M.D., is to facilitate the learning and development of skills necessary for success in an academic career. The group plans to meet quarterly to discuss books, articles, or media resources that will be selected before the meeting.
  • Virtual Chess Club: This group led by Martin Noguera and Jon Alexander, PhD, seeks to establish social connections with individuals in and/or outside the department through a friendly game of chess, with the mission of learning, developing, and understanding the game of chess as well as promoting critical thinking. All skill levels are welcome.